U.S. to House Detained Migrants in Converted Hotels

Tim Gaynor, Reuters, October 6, 2009

The United States, criticized for holding illegal immigrants in overcrowded and poorly run jails, on Tuesday announced plans to convert hotels to detain some noncriminal immigrants.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said illegal immigrants ranging from criminals to newly arrived asylum seekers would be held in different facilities according to the risk they pose.

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Referring to noncriminals such as newly arrived asylum seekers, Napolitano said, “We will begin efforts to house these populations near immigration service providers and pursue different options like converted hotels or residential facilities for their detention.”

About 32,000 immigrants to the United States are held at any given time in about 350 local jails and private prisons, which have been criticized for providing poor medical care and oversight.

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The changes are part of a broader overhaul of the immigration detention system to “centralize, organize, provide oversight (and) ensure greater federal accountability,” Napolitano said.

Other reforms include doubling the number of ICE employees at detention facilities that house about 80 percent of immigration detainees, to provide greater day-to-day oversight, and providing alternatives to detention, like ankle bracelets.

Napolitano said efforts are also under way to develop an online locater system for families and lawyers to find detainees, as well as efforts to centralize and oversee more than 300 immigration detention contracts, and improve medical care for detainees.

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